It is popular to provide an argument that one does not like and ask "what is the name of the logical fallacy in this argument." However, given a name for such a fallacy, what value does knowing that name have? Has a debate ever been won by bringing up the name of a fallacy in the opponent's argument?

I find that it is rare that an argument is ever logical enough to leverage a fallacy without being logical enough to make the issue so obvious that naming the fallacy is almost not worth the time. In many cases, it can be harder to explain to someone what the named fallacy is rather than using its contents (without giving the fallacy a name).

What utility is there in knowing the name of a fallacy used in a particular argument? Wikipedia lists an astonishing number of these, almost like we just make them up as we go along. Why did philosophers feel there was sufficient value in naming the particular fallacies we named, and not others?

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    Quite nothing; only some mnemonic name (like usually the oldest ones : affirming the consequent for conditional or undistributed middle for syllogism) can be of some use. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Nov 17 '16 at 15:02
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    What utility is there in naming medical diseases and conditions (a very long list)? It seems that we just give them names as we go along... If a doctor tells a patient, "You have methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type", that likely means nothing to them. However, doctors can communicate with each other using the proper names for diseases, and research can be grouped, searched-for, and otherwise referred to by using the specific names. – elmer007 Nov 17 '16 at 15:53
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    While I agree that many examples on this site were trivial I encountered some where untangling the web of fallacy was tricky, and thinking through named fallacies helped as it it brought up patterns to look for. I do not believe the effect is purely mnemonic, many classical philosophers wrote about the importance of coining the "right" terms to focus and facilitate thinking, help to dissect and explain complexities. Leibniz's idea of "universal characteristic" came out of it. It is the same with fallacies as with any other subject. – Conifold Nov 17 '16 at 19:01
  • The main notion for me to learn here is that there is such a thing as a logical fallacy, and to expore how they can arise; it's like counting, once you've learnt the first few numbers, you can recognise others when they arise. – Mozibur Ullah Nov 27 '16 at 8:19

The purpose of naming fallacies is to organize our knowledge of such fallacies so that (a) people can learn them instead of having to discover them for themselves, (b) people can recognize them when they come across them and (c) people can easily talk about them. It is a lot easier to say "affirming the consequent" than to say "asserting that something is true just because it implies something else that happens to be true."

Naming fallacies is an instance of naming things in general. Names help us organize our knowledge and deal with reality.

Of course, another utility in knowing the names of fallacies is to be able to show off your knowledge. But that is true of knowledge of all sorts of things.


To your first question

What utility is there in knowing the name of a fallacy used in a particular argument?

Contrary to other answers and comments more generous to the human condition than I am, this is unlikely to be out of a sense of "being able to communicate with other experts" or "helping to understand the problem" or just a shorthand way of expressing the issue. It is vastly more likely to be an attempt to win an argument without having to actually work out for oneself why the opponent's logic is wrong because an expert has already said it is (by which I mean Appeal to Authority, but it didn't take me long to write it the long way).

Names obviously help to communicate with other experts as with the use of latin names in many professions, but then the only case in which one would need to ask "What is the name of this fallacy?" would be if you thought an expert had made a logical fallacy and you (a non-expert) had spotted it and wish to communicate the matter. Experts talking to each other about known fallacies will already know the names of them by virtue of being experts. One might seek to learn the names, for that purpose, but the name would be useless to that endeavour without understanding the fallacy it named, at which stage one could dismiss a faulty argument logically without resorting to the name.

Neither is giving it a name going to act as shorthand as you will undoubtedly have to go on to explain what the fallacy is, doubling the time spent expounding the matter. If simply naming the thing were truly enough to satisfy the opponent that their argument is flawed, then your opponent would have to know of the fallacy too, but have used it anyway, a possible but unlikely scenario.

Nor do I accept the argument that names (in this case) help us organise our knowledge or dissect the logical flaws. Were this the intention, then some form of categorisation would have been developed something which truly organised in such a way as to aid the understanding of how such an argument is a fallacy. I cannot see any way in which the current naming system provides such an insight. Despite the efforts of the page's authors, the Wikipedia page you link to is little more than just a list, any categorisation is done post hoc.

I don't think it would realistic to expect that a commonly occurring fallacy would exist for long without someone giving it a name, and I don't doubt that desire would be partly motivated by ease of communication, but our history, especially in philosophy, is not one of free and generous distribution of knowledge but retention and obfuscation in an attempt to retain the power that knowledge gives. Naming is part of that history, naming a fallacy rather than simply explaining it, puts the user in a position of power, one in which they appear to have access to some information their opponent does not. I think the whole "name this fallacy..." game is very appealing because it is such an easy route to the appearance of knowledge, in the same way as direct quotes always seem more attractive in an argument than paraphrasing even though the latter shows more understanding, the former shows more knowledge, and knowledge is equated with power.


The question is

However, given a name for such a fallacy, what value does knowing that name have? Has a debate ever been won by bringing up the name of a fallacy in the opponent's argument?

Nicholas Capaldi and Miles Smit show how simply knowing the name of a fallacy can help one side attack the conclusions of the other: (page 143)

After a general characterization of the argument, you should attack the route taken by your opponent to his conclusion. Here, you are criticizing the means he used to go from the evidence to the conclusion. Whether or not he is guilty of them, you can accuse him of certain traditional formal fallacies. Moreover, where possible, you should use the Latin names of those fallacies because this will make the audience believe you are skilled in identifying such fallacies and because the error sounds so much worse, just like a rare disease, when described in Latin.

This would be one way for someone, specifically a deceiver, to use the names of fallacies in an argument. The deceiver also needs to know enough about the fallacy to sound convincing to specific audiences and a name helps deceivers organize this material for use in an argument.

Even asking a question such as What is the name of the logical fallacy in this argument? encourages people to look for a fallacy rather than question whether there is a fallacy present or not. Those who come up with potential names of fallacies in their naivete assist the questioner. They, not the one bringing up the question, negatively label the opposing side. They do this labeling without having listened to any arguments from the other side and without being considered socially or politically incorrect for such labeling.

Those who aren't deceivers will also need ways, such as using names, to efficiently organize fallacious argument patterns so they can defend against them whether they explicitly accuse their opponents of committing a named fallacy or not.

Capaldi, N., Smit, M. (2007). The art of deception: an introduction to critical thinking. Prometheus Books.

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    Not sure why your answer got downvoted. I upvoted to cancel it. I agree that appealing to named fallacies is often unhelpful. For one thing, it tends to reduce reasoned discussion to a kind of point scoring exercise. For another, it diverts the discussion away from the merits and demerits of the argument at hand to the question of just how similar the argument is to the claimed fallacy. – Bumble Dec 11 '18 at 7:43

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